Of all the areas I visited on my last trip back to London, the one that had changed the most over the years was King Cross. When I lived in London it was home to the station, a few dodgy nightclubs, a bollard I once reversed my mum’s car into (sorry mum) and a lot of roads you didn’t want to walk down after dark – now, it’s full of cool hotels, wide-open spaces full of bars and restaurants – and, of course, a few unusual sights you might want to check out.
So, here’s our guide to quirky things to see and do around Kings Cross.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra.
Where is Kings Cross in London?
It’s an area toward the north of central London.
It’s really well connected for travel – two major railway stations Kings Cross and St Pancras are here, as is the Eurostar terminal – and Euston isn’t far away.
It’s also on six tube lines – and easy to get to from Oxford Circus, Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Camden. This makes it a pretty easy place to visit no matter where you’re staying or visiting in London.
There’s not really any big tourist attractions in Kings Cross – unless you’re into museums, but, if you want to see one of the newest parts of London or sit outside with a drink, meal or even just an ice cream on a sunny day somewhere where you’re not being driven past by 50 taxis and a bus every ten minutes, then the revitalised areas around the canal in King’s Cross – Granary Square, Coal Drops Yard and Gasholder Park (above) is perfect for you.
Other parts of Kings Cross are less gentrified, and as such, you’ll find old buildings and bits of history to check out among the newness. It really does have something for everyone so, whether you’re adding it as part of a longer London itinerary or just looking for something to do near Kings Cross St Pancras while you wait for a train, take a look around this little lot…
Quirky Things to See and Do in Kings Cross
1. Make Up a Story for The Lighthouse
Come out of Kings Cross station and cross the road to head to Grays Inn Road, look up – there above the Five Guys is a lighthouse.
Exactly why, no-one completely knows – although the most likely rumour is there used to be an oyster bar on the site, but as no-one knows, why not make up your own story.
Maybe Kings Cross used to be a giant inland sea or it’s up there to direct alien spacecraft.
Who knows… all I know is it’s super cool and it sparked my entire Hidden Sights in London post. So I like it.
2. Jump Up and Down on a Grave
No, I haven’t suddenly gone all disrespectful. These gravestones are made to be stepped on as they honour musician Charles Dibdin and Joseph Grimaldi, one of the world’s most famous clowns.
Grimaldi is buried in what was a cemetery, but is now a small park, called Joseph Grimaldi Park, located a short walk east of Kings Cross station along Pentonville Road.
While his actual grave is fenced off in the middle of the park, as part of his memorial there are two coffin-shaped pieces of metal on the ground, which, if you walk, jump or dance on them, play music.
Go, jump up and down, have fun! And add grave dancing to your list of unusual things to do in Kings Cross.
If you’re interested in quirky gravestones, have a look at our post on the unusual headstones at Coober Pedy’s Boothill Cemetery once you’ve finished this one.
3. Visit the Spice Girls Staircase
If you’ve seen the Spice Girls video for Wannabe, you’ll remember it being filmed, at least in part on a very ornate staircase.
That staircase is found in what’s now the Renaissance St Pancras Hotel.
Technically, you have to be staying in the hotel to actually step on to it, but it’s feasible to wander past it.
Oh, and, if you now get the urge to watch the video, about 2.50 in, that ‘lady’ in the blonde wig and pink dress is an old friend of mine, DJ Barbie.
I was cool once you know (or at least I knew people who were).
4. Drink at the Longest Champagne Bar in Europe
Located right in the middle of St Pancras station is the 98 metres of booths and bar that make up the St Pancras Champagne Bar by Searcys, and that makes it, reportedly, the longest champagne bar in Europe.
There’s a huge selection of drinks to choose from and don’t worry, you can buy fizz by the glass if your budget won’t stretch to a bottle and watch the trains come and go from the Eurostar Terminal.
While you’re there, look up toward the clock at the front of the station and you might notice something interesting.
The area is home to artworks by the Terrace Wires group that are suspended from the roof.
When I was there the work was Tracey Emin’s ode to Europe, the words I Want My Time With You in pink neon – but that was scheduled to come down in June 2020 so, by the time you read this, there might be something totally new there.
If you want to check before you go, here’s where you’ll find details of what’s in the space now – and you can also see the past works that have been there.
Talking of art, check out the giant kissing couple. This is The Meeting Place by artist Paul Day. It’s supposed to depict the romantic side of travel…hmm, have they been on a British train? Maybe it just relates to the Eurostar.
5. Think Pink at EL&N
There’s pink poodles, pink suitcases, pink signs and even pink lattes at this latest outpost of super cute cafe EL&N in St Pancras station.
If you’re wanting to top up your Instagram feed, love pink and want to tick off the fun things to do in Kings Cross part of the title – you’re going to want to head in and check it out.
It’s open from 7am to 8pm. seven days a week.
Why Not Try a Mystery Picnic
Looking for something else fun to do on your London trip – how about a Mystery Picnic? They don’t have them in Kings Cross (yet), but they do have them in nearby Camden, Notting Hill, Hampstead – and other locations around London and the UK.
The idea is simple. You solve clues to pick up all the goodies for your picnic and then enjoy a delicious lunch in one of London’s fabulous parks. We tried it in Sydney and loved it – and there was heaps of food.
There’s a few different options for couples, friends and families to choose from, but head to their UK page and you’ll find all of the options.
You can also check out our review of the Camden Mystery Picnic here.
6. See the Tree Surrounded by Gravestones
Located in the graveyard that surrounds the St Pancras Old Church, The Hardy Tree is one of the more quirky things to do near Kings Cross.
It’s named after the author Thomas Hardy, who accidentally created it. You see, Hardy wasn’t trying to create something that was going to hang around for a hundred more years, he was just having a bit of a clear up at work!
Before he started writing, Hardy worked for an architect.
When the railway was being built, it was to run through a cemetery and Hardy was in charge of exhuming bodies and moving their gravestones. For reasons unknown, he stacked a whole load of them around an old ash tree – and now, 160 years later, they’re still there – although fenced off as the tree is not as healthy as it was in Hardy’s day.
2023 update: I’m just giving this post an update and sadly, the Hardy Tree finally succumbed to disease and fell at the end of December 2022 so the tree itself won’t be there when you visit. The council have said they are going to try and commemorate the tree in some way though so, and they haven’t said they are going to remove the gravestones, so something should still be there.
There’s a few other notable graves in the cemetery included one that it’s said the red phone box is based upon.
The Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial in the park is also worth a look. It’s in memory of those whose body’s were moved for the railway – the animal sculptures around the edge are a bit quirky!
7. Wander Around the Canal
As I said, I lived in London for a long time when Kings Cross was rather dodgy and didn’t even know there WAS a canal and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to wander down it with a coffee on a Sunday.
Now, the whole area has opened up and is home to quaint locks, canal boat tours, floating shops and idyllic looking house boats.
You can wander down the main towpath past the floating book shop and down to York Way, or head up to St Pancras Lock (which also takes you toward the Hardy Tree).
I was fascinated by the new apartments up here – they’ve actually been built in the old gas towers. Look how cool are they…
There’s also a small nature park around here – it was closed when I visited but normally the Camley Street Natural Park is home to waterbirds and butterflies and even has a stylish architect-designed floating observation platform.
They’re building a new visitors centre – which is why they were closed. Once that’s built they’ll be back up and running so check the website for opening details.
8. Visit The Ice Well
A short walk along the canal towpath (and a back double through a few backstreets) takes you to the London Canal Museum which explores the important role the canal played in London’s trade back in the day – and gives you a chance to peer down one of London’s original ice wells…
Okay, so when you arrive you’ll wonder why I’ve sent you to look at a big hole in the ground on your holiday – but bear with me!
Before refrigeration this well supplied much of London with ice – and not just restaurants or shops, but also hospitals where it was used to treat sprains and strains – and numb pain before some surgeries!.
The ice wasn’t made in London though – it was cut in Norway and shipped all the way to the docks in London, where it was then carried by horse and cart to the well here where it was stored.
I find that strangely fascinating!
The Museum also offers boat trips along the canal so if you want to float around the area while you learn things about it, go on one of the days they’re running. Find the museum opening hours and boat trip details here.
9. Eat an Awesome Cheese Sandwich
It’s gooey, very, very gooey – and if you’re been partaking in some of London’s finer hostelries the night before, it’s fantastic hangover food.
I’m talking about the cheese toastie from Morty and Bobs in Coal Drops Yard.
You can pick from a plain simple one with grilled onions, or gussy things up with mushroom and truffle or some bacon.
I was set for the day after mine.
You’ll find no end of bars and restaurants in Kings Cross. Highlights include The Lighterman, Casa Pastor, Coal Office and Granary Square Brasserie.
If you’re looking for something that’s fun as well as filling, check out Longboys – who offer gourmet eclair-shaped doughnuts full of intriguing yumminess (how good does the one below look).
You might also want to stop off at House of Cans who sell beers in cans designed by local artists.
If you’re looking for somewhere unusual but a bit swish, check out The Booking Office – located in the actual old booking office at St Pancras.
10. Pay Homage to Platform 9 and 3/4
For anyone living under a rock for the last 20 odd years, Kings Cross station is home to the fictional (or is it?) platform 9 and 3/4 from which young witches and wizards embark on their journey to Hogwarts, as such it’s a must-stop for any Harry Potter fan.
You can have your picture taken pushing your suitcase through the wall and stock up with merchandise from the Harry Potter shop.
More Harry Potter Things to Do in London
Once you’ve seen Platform 9 3/4 you might want to know where many of the other Harry Potter locations are in London – like the inspirations for Gringotts or Diagon Alley.
Thankfully there are a lot of Harry Potter Walking Tours in London.
You’ll also find a couple of Harry Potter shops around London, including the intriguing House of MinaLima in Soho (see more on that in our Fun Guide to London’s Soho).
There’s also the Harry Potter Butterbeer bar in Covent Garden which is super cute. It’s underneath the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition but you don’t need a ticket to visit. See more in our post on the butterbeer bar.
You can also book a tour of the Harry Potter Studios that starts a short tube ride from Kings Cross.
The studios are outside London in Watford, but this tour picks you up in Russell Square and, transports you to the studio, let’s you jump the line, and brings you back into Central London again once your fun day is over.
If you’d prefer to make your own way to the studios, check out this post on the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios from Creative Travel Guide who explain all your transport options, and give you some suggestions of what to see at the studios.
11. Check Out the Lights at The Kings Cross Tunnel
This space age walkway takes you to the underground from the One St Pancras Building.
It’s one of Europe’s longest light walls and contains 190 glowing panels.
It’s open seven days a week from 7am to 8pm
12. Have Historical Afternoon Tea
The Hansom Bar at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is inspired by the railway history of the area.
As well as the normal sandwiches and scones, you’ll be able to nibble on Chocolate and Rapsberry ‘coal’ Clusters inspired by the fuel that used to power the area; the sprinkles on the Bakewell Tart reflect the famous blue ironwork of St Pancras Station and there’s a few other touches that I won’t spoil for you.
The tea is available Friday – Sunday at the Hansom Lounge.
13.Marvel at the Medical Equipment
The Wellcome Collection, is a little bit further west that most of the things in this post – technically you could say it’s in Euston, but as I’m not doing a Euston post, and when it comes to the most unusual things to do in London, this one is definitely up there, it’s going to have its home here.
It describes itself as a museum for the incurably curious and it contain hundreds of exhiibits on medicine, health and the human body.
They also do tours if you want to find out more about what, why and how the collection exists.
To check opening hours, tour times and to see what exhibits are currently showing, check their website.
14. Go Backstage at the British Library
I admit, touring the British Library wasn’t originally on my list of fun things to do in King’s Cross – I mean libraries aren’t normally that exciting – but this one is.
Not only is it home to original copies of written works – including scraps of paper including original Beatles lyrics – that you can check out in their Treasures Room, the way the books arrive at the reading room is amazing.
They actually have a conveyor belt system that, combined with the talents of a host of librarians, means they can find any book from the eight storeys of subterranean shelves that lie underneath the library in a matter of minutes.
The Treasures Room is free to visit, but if you want to see the filing system, you’ll need to book on one of the daily tours.
If you’re looking for other museums near Kings Cross, the Foundling Museum and the Charles Dicken’s Museum are only a short walk away.
15. Listen to Isaac Newton
There’s a huge statue of Isaac Newton in the courtyard outside the British Libary – and, if you’ve got your smartphone handy, you can click on a courtyard and listen to him speak!
It’s part of an initiative called Talking Statues which aims to bring to live the stories of the figures around London (and other cities of the world). Famous British actors like Patrick Stewart, Damien Lewis and Prunella Scales bring life to figures.
To find a list of chatting statues, visit the Talking Statues website.
16. Check out Art in a Crypt
While the Hardy Tree is located in the grounds of St Pancras Old Church, the St Pancras New Church located on Euston Road on the way to the Wellcome Collection is also worth a look.
The outside looks like it escaped from Ancient Greece with columns and caryatid figures inspired by those at the Acropolis. At the time of building it was the most expensive church built in the capital since St Pauls.
If the outside wasn’t unusual enough, inside, you’ll find a crypt housing 557 bodies that also regularly hosts art exhibits.
Unusual Places to Stay in Kings Cross
Whether you’re looking for a quick one night stop before you jump on the Eurostar, or fancy basing yourself in this area of London (I like it because it’s very handy from Heathrow as you just get on the Piccadilly line where it starts, stay on it through central London and then you’re done).
There’s now lots of hotels in this area. Most of the big chains are here, but if you’re looking for somewhere a bit more unusual to stay in Kings Cross have a look at these options…
House of Toby
I stayed at this refurbished town house in Kings Cross just after it opened a few years ago and loved it.
The rooms are very small, perfect for one person, but could be cramped for two for more than a night or two, but the location was amazing and, as a solo female traveller I felt very safe there.
I also loved the quirky cat pictures on the walls!
Opened in 2019, this was the first hotel from the famous US Standard group outside of America.
It’s located in what used to be a council building – and they’ve really made the most of the brutalist architecture.
Some of the rooms are even curved… look!
Note: the cheapest rooms don’t have windows – they say they are brilliant for jetlag, but if you like seeing the outside, make sure you book one of the other rooms.
The Renaissance St Pancras
This hotel is directly over St Pancras station in what used to be the main station building.
It’s beautifully ornate, I’m in love with the windows – and, if you’re staying here then you’re definitely allowed on the Spice Girls Staircase!
The budget option this hostel used to be a courthouse and you can sleep in some of the rooms that used to be cells.
The bar on the premises is known as the Clash Bar as the famous punk band once appeared at the courthouse!
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.